Bicycle Blueprint

NYC Cycling
NYC Bike Policy
2. State of NYC Cycling
3. Cyclists & Streets
A Bike and a Prayer

Riding Infrastructure
4. Street Design
5. Bridges
6. Road Surfaces
7. Greenways
8. Parks
9. Bicycles and Transit
10. Reducing Traffic

11. Bicycle Theft
12. On-Street Parking
13. Indoor Parking

On the Job Cycling
14. Bicycle Messengers
Fifth, Park & Madison
15. Freight Cycles
16. Gov't Cycling

Reducing Risks
17. Accidents
Three Who Died
18. Air Pollution

Bicycle Education
19. Schools
20. Public Education


      Chapter 1:
Integrating NYC's Bicycle Policy
a) How to Read the Blueprint
b) The Importance of Integrated Bicycle Planning
c) The Practice of Integrated Bicycle Planning
d) Bicycle Planning in North America
e) Bicycle Planning in New York City
f) The New Transportation Planning Environment
 The Benefit-Cost Advantage of Bicycling for New York City
h) Chapter 1 Recommendations

The Benefit-Cost Advantage of Bicycling for New York City

In a city beset with the gargantuan problems of New York, the simple, unassuming bicycle — the most efficient form of urban transportation ever invented — can be a powerful solution. By making a genuine, comprehensive commitment to encouraging cycling, city government could underwrite a dramatic improvement in many of the conditions that now undermine New York as a place to live and work: pollution, traffic congestion, noise, danger and the general aura of facelessness and hostility.

The advantages of bicycle transportation for New York derive primarily from three factors:

  • the inherent positive nature of the bicycle;
  • the high economic and social cost of motor vehicle use; and
  • the modest cost of changing the city's institutions and infrastructure to make bicycling safer and more accessible.
The Positive Nature of Bicycle Transportation

A 1989 Transportation Alternatives “Bike-To-Work Week” poster touted bicycling as non-polluting, liberating, healthful, scenic, economical and fun. Although the list isn't exhaustive — "space-saving" and "human-scale" also apply — the adjectives in the T.A. poster capture the essence of bicycling's positive value for cities such as New York.

Automobiles are far and away the prime cause of New York City's dangerously unhealthy air. But even mass transit consumes fossil fuels and creates pollution — directly in the case of buses, and indirectly for electric-powered rail transport. Bicycling, in contrast, is human-powered, or, if you will, a product of solar energy (mediated into food via photosynthesis, and into mechanical energy via the cyclist's metabolism). Like walking, cycling is renewable transport, and therefore non-polluting; however, the mechanical advantage of the bicycle allows the cyclist to cover 4-5 times as much ground as the pedestrian. With a bicycle, a New Yorker can traverse the metropolis pollution-free — on the energy of an apple tart!

Apple Power
On 350 calories — one apple tart or a “special” slice of Ray's Pizza — a cyclist can travel 10 miles, a pedestrian 3.5 miles, and an automobile 100 feet.

Of course, bicycles are many times more efficient in using street space than automobiles, and roughly comparable to buses operating at high load factors. Moreover, compared to cars, and also to buses and subways, bicycles are blessedly quiet. In crowded, noisome New York, the bicycle's economy of space and sound is a powerful advantage.

Cycling is also personally liberating. On a bike, one can “transcend time, traffic and the regulated ordinariness of city life,” [21] wrote one bicyclist. Cyclists control their own schedule, largely free of the gridlock, breakdowns and bureaucracies that are the constant bane of motorists and transit riders. Hand-in-hand with the psychic benefits of autonomous travel comes the physiological benefit from cycling exercise — not to mention the sheer fun and exhilaration of propelling oneself on two wheels. With improved street conditions, especially reduced pollution and danger from motor vehicles, cycling could truly become a “health club of the streets,” providing free aerobic exercise as part of one's normal daily travel, not in a sweaty gym but in the urban outdoors.

Much of the scenic and fun value of riding a bike comes from the ability to experience and interact with the vibrant street life of New York. Unlike motorists, who are separate from (if not intruders upon) the communities their cars rumble through, and transit users who are stifled underground, the cyclist can feel and observe the passing scene and stop casually for errands. And while nothing quite matches the intimacy of walking through a neighborhood, cycling at least comes close while affording far greater mobility. What's more, many cyclists, especially women, feel less vulnerable to street crime aboard a bike than on foot or on mass transit. By making bicycle riding available to a broader spectrum of people in a wider set of circumstances, we can increase the affinity that New Yorkers feel for their city and for each other.

Finally, bicycling is affordable. Per mile traveled, bicycle riding costs the frequent cyclist less than half as much as mass transit and only one-quarter as much as driving — even assuming cyclists must replace their bicycles every three years due to bicycle theft and bad pavement. [22] The low cost of bicycle transportation is a big reason that many young and hard-pressed New Yorkers — students, artists, free-lancers — rely on bikes.

By extending bicycling to a fuller spectrum of the citizenry, the city could significantly lower the cost of living in New York. We estimate that the annual savings would average $575 for each transit user switching to bicycles, and $1,100 per motorist. The implied savings in outlays from a 10-fold increase in cycling are on the order of half-a-billion dollars annually for the city as a whole. [23] Clearly, by making cycling more widespread, city government could free up substantial discretionary income for entertainment, education, and other goods and services that are New York's economic and social raison d'être.

Economic and Social Costs of Motor Vehicles
copyright Keith Haring 1985

Motor vehicles impose an extraordinary burden on New York City. Roadway construction, maintenance and administration cost the city close to $800 million a year more than is collected from motorists through fuel taxes, tolls and other charges (see next footnote); this amount, equivalent to $105 a year for every man, woman and child in the city, must be made up through higher taxes on personal and business income, property and sales.

But this subsidy to motorists is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg; transportation planner-engineer Brian Ketcham and economist Charles Komanoff estimate that the “hidden” costs of motor vehicle use — air pollution, time lost in congestion, traffic noise and vibration, national security costs to maintain oil supplies, land appropriation, and the human toll of car accidents on motorists, pedestrians and cyclists — total approximately $21 billion a year in New York City. About half of these costs are borne by motorists, but the other half is borne by the public at large. [24] Averaged across the entire populace, the use of cars and trucks costs New Yorkers an astounding $3,000 per person per year, above and beyond motorists' out-of-pocket costs including taxes and insurance.

While at first glance this number appears fantastic, it becomes plausible when one considers the destructive reality of motor vehicles in New York. Cars and trucks kill over 600 people each year in the City — of whom more than half are pedestrians or cyclists — and injure over 15,000. They also usurp huge amounts of the city's land area, turn neighborhoods into urban expressways and commercial districts into racetracks, subject everyone to constant noise, and are by far the city's largest source of air pollution. That the cost of this destruction is not yet incorporated into what motorists pay to drive does not make them any less real for New Yorkers and our city as a whole.

How do these motor vehicle usage costs pertain to bicycling? Obviously, any increase in non-motor transportation reduces car and truck miles driven in New York and thereby reduces the overall economic and social cost of driving. And while not every present or potential bicycle mile traveled substitutes for a car or truck mile, the opportunities to increase cycling are so great, and the costs of motor vehicle use so enormous, that even a fractional displacement of cars by bikes can make a noticeable dent in vehicle-related costs.

For example, even assuming that four-fifths of new bicycle riders came from the ranks of transit users and pedestrians, and only one-fifth from motorists or car poolers, a 10-fold increase in non-commercial cycling in New York would eliminate approximately 3 percent of automobile miles traveled. [25] Assuming that cars and trucks each account for half of motor vehicle costs in New York (since ton-miles traveled by city cars and trucks are roughly equal), the 10-fold cycling increase hypothesized here would thus eliminate approximately $300 million a year of the $21 billion in motor vehicle hidden costs — accidents, congestion, pollution, and so forth — cited above. This saving is in addition to the half-a-billion dollar savings in annual direct travel costs that we estimated above would be realized by New Yorkers participating in the increase in bicycling.

To be sure, the measures recommended in this report to increase cycling would have their own costs. Still, it is hard to imagine that the necessary changes in the city's institutions and infrastructure, or the costs of cycling itself, would absorb more than a fraction of the savings that individuals and the public at large would reap from expanding bicycling and cutting back on car traffic. Indeed, a New York less overrun by autos and more attuned to bicycles would be more attractive to tourists as well as residents. Certainly, Americans and non-Americans alike would find it intriguing if cosmopolitan New York City, renowned for theater, art, music and sheer diversity and vitality, transformed itself to become one of the world's great bicycling cities. [26]

21. Charles Komanoff, “Bikes Just Lack 'Curb Appeal',” The New York Times, Sept. 1, 1990.
22. Estimated per-passenger-mile costs are 10¢/mile for cycling, 25¢/mile for transit, 38¢/mile for autos. Key assumptions include cycling usage averaging 96 miles a week (of which one-third is commuting), 40 weeks a year, with annual parts and maintenance costs of $300/year in addition to new bicycle purchase every three years; auto costs of 50¢/mile with 1.3 passengers per car; transit fare of $1.25 with average trip distance of 5 miles.
23. Applying the per-cyclist annual savings earlier in the paragraph to 630,000 new riders (from a hypothesized 10-fold increase in daily cyclists, from 70,000 to 700,000), yields $360 million in aggregate savings if all cyclist switches were from transit, or $686 million for switches from driving. Although a large-scale substitution of cycling for transit would cut into Transit Authority revenues, other measures ranging from transit improvements to increased driving charges could offset any attrition from making cycling more attractive. In any event, transportation planners increasingly are calling for financing transit through general revenues rather than the farebox.
24. The $800 million direct subsidy figure is based on Federal Highway Administration data. Estimated annual hidden costs borne by New York City non-motorists as of 1990 were $2.9 billion for health and property damage from air pollution, $2.5 billion for accidents, $2.0 billion for appropriation of land; $1.4 billion for noise; $1.1 billion for time lost in congestion, $300 million each for military costs allocable to defending oil supplies and the present worth of future climate change costs; and $200 million for damage to buildings and infrastructure from vibration from heavy trucks. See B. Ketcham and C. Komanoff, “Should Drivers Pay More?,” Auto-Free Press, Nov/Dec 1992.
25. The hypothesized 10-increase from today's 70,000 daily commuter cyclists implies 630,000 new cycle commuters, of whom 20% are assumed to abandon motor vehicles (126,000) and 80% mass transit (504,000). We assume that the latter shift from transit itself provokes a 1-in-20 reduction in driving, by making transit less crowded. This further reduction of 25,000 drivers or passengers results in a total of 151,000 fewer auto trips per day. Assuming that the bicycling trips displace cars for 8 miles daily (4 miles each way), 4 days per week, 40 weeks per year, with an occupancy rate of 1.3 passengers per car, the auto mileage displaced by the increase in bicycle commuting is around 150 million miles per year. Assuming further that total bicycle use is triple commuting distance alone, the total auto mileage displaced would be 450 million miles annually. This is around 3% of New York City's current automobile travel of 14.5 billion miles per year.
26. Bicycling magazine rated New York one of America's three worst cycling cities (April 1990). In a May 1992 update, Bicycling said New York, though still not hospitable to cyclists, was “improving,” in large part due to the activism of Transportation Alternatives.

How to Read the Blueprint
b) The Importance of Integrated Bicycle Planning
c) The Practice of Integrated Bicycle Planning
d) Bicycle Planning in North America
e) Bicycle Planning in New York City
f) The New Transportation Planning Environment
 The Benefit-Cost Advantage of Bicycling for New York City
h) Chapter 1 Recommendations